Fresh into the tour for the release of their latest album, Aureate Gloom, of Montreal’s lead vocalist/mastermind Kevin Barnes’ lyrical style is well described as a dreamcatcher of his personal circumstances, a pouring out of pent-up emotion in the immediate moment. It’s a progressive style of songwriting that has driven that band’s journey parallel to Barnes’ internal evolution, pushing them through various musical eras of influence and style that has characterized their sound for nearly 20 years. It’s like a marriage between the spacey melodies of the Talking Heads and and the progressive rock of Supergrass, with a slightly aggressive vocal edge similar to the Strokes.
In a press release for the new album, Barnes discussed how developments in his life helped to paint the picture that became Aureate Gloom.
“I was going through a very stormy period in my life and felt like I was just completely trashed,” Barnes said. “I might be guilty of sharing or exposing too much of my private life, but to me the best albums are those that help people connect with an artist on a deep, human level and that do so without too much artifice or evasiveness.”
Exposing too much of his private life is perhaps an understatement, even if only to those that have learned how to read between the cryptic lines of his lyricisms.
“I get through things by writing about them,” Barnes told Weld for Birmingham in a recent interview. “Often, my perception of the thing I’m depicting is in a transitional phase, so there’s no resolution while I’m writing.”
According to the article, Aureate Gloom is an autobiographical depiction of turmoil that stems from his recent separation from his wife of 12 years. “That state of imbalance is captured on the records, but it doesn’t represent where I eventually end up. It just represents who I am in a state of turmoil.”
Aureate Gloom isn’t just a dredge through Barnes’ personal woes, though. Barnes embarked on a writing retreat to New York, where the 70s punk scene left a drastic impression.
"(It) was cool just to wander around the village in Chelsea and role-play and imagine what it would have been like in the '70s," Barnes recently told the Charleston City Paper. "New York Dolls, Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers, Richard Hell's projects Television and the Voidoids, The Ramones — just that whole scene," Barnes says. "New York was almost more of a character than a city."
The aural voyage begins with a disco-punk ballad inspired by the mysterious death of Egyptian journalist and civil rights activist “Bassem Sabry,” for whom the lead track is titled. It’s a rebellious acquiescence to fascism, a commentary on social degradation that culminates in the calling-out of “cellophane punk” leaders to unite us plebeians under Barnes’ revolutionary umbrella.
The second track, “Last Rites at the Jane Hotel,” is the first of the personal autobiographical tunes that fill the rest of the album. It’s a Beatles-esque journey through a bleak account of relationship-induced misery; the music follows Barnes’ emotional state, from passive matter-of-fact storytelling to an aggressive, in-your-face lashing out at the cause of this misery before throwing his hands in the air at everything with a spacey who-gives-a-damn-about-it reflection in the clouds.
“Empyrean Abbatoir” is the third act in this emotional somersault, but leads with a smooth, uptempo tune and vocal harmonies that mimic the beat of the rain that now drenches our abysmal situation. Just when we get comfortable, all the angst boils over and the song explodes in a Green Day/Hot Hot Heat-like tirade, flailing against the circumstances that led us here yet again with two middle fingers in ambiguous salute.
Finally, we’re greeted by the eye of the storm with “Aluminum Crown,” a dreamy, floating reprieve that feels like a collaboration between Air and David Bowie. The lyrics are an accurate of where we are in the album’s progression: caught in a deeply troubled dream. Before we drift too far away, the beat breaks into a chaotic commentary on the paranoid reality that’s to blame for our insanity (“You can't let them hear what you're thinking / Or they will throw you back into jail, uh-huh”). The song ends with fading ambiance that reminds us it’s all still just a dream… for now.
Regardless how deep you tread into this melodious nightmare, it’s obvious that Aureate Gloom is a serious migration away from the dance-pop rhythms filled with colorful pom poms and dance parties that have characterized of Montreal in some of their previous productions, to an intoxicating sway that results from banging our heads against a wall and bleeding on the floor together. Nonetheless, of Montreal finds an inviting balance between a noisy chaos and a psychedelic jam with purpose.
Expect to party in the darkness with them when they come to The Woodward. If you have any feels in your life you find difficult or unnavigable, of Montreal most likely has a track or two that will dramatize that exact feeling and help you stomp in your puddles of tears with them while wearing a smile on your face. It’s a half-awake night terror, a trip that could leave you feeling down and out about the things you are without or grateful that your life isn’t as melodically tumultuous as their songs. After all… it comes down to the heart of the beholder.